ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani once again on Monday took what appeared to be a potshot at the military when he said affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court by the Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha on 'memogate' were 'unconstitutional and illegal'.
In an interview with the People's Daily Online of China, which was released by the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency, Mr Gilani said since the COAS and ISI DG had submitted their replies to the court without seeking approval of the competent authority under the rules of business, the statements carried no legal import.
'No summary seeking approval of the competent authority was initiated by the ministry of defence nor was any approval obtained fromthe defence minister,' the prime minister was quoted as saying by the APP.
The media wing of the prime minister's secretariat confirmed the statement.
Soon after the APP released excerpts of the interview, it was picked by major news search engines and online editions of newspapers all over the world.
Some saw it as an obvious reference to the ongoing tension between the government and the military establishment.
However, legal experts said it was too late on part of the prime minister to take this stand as the court had already set up a three-member commission to investigate the memo case.
Salman Akram Raja, a Supreme Court lawyer, said: 'I don't think it's going to make any impact on the investigations which the commission is carrying out into the memo case.
The government should have clarified its position it had nothing to do with the statements made by Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha in replies submitted to the court. But the government didn't do so, said Mr Raja.
The lawyer, however,added it was not clear whether the COAS and ISI DG could go to the court in their individual capacities, as said by Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq.
They forwarded their statements through the attorney general, Mr Raja recalled, adding that as individuals they should have hired their own counsel to deal with the Supreme Court.
The Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Athar Abbas, wasn't available to comment on the development.
According to APP, the prime minister was referring to an observation by the Chief Justice of Pakistan that any act of a government functionary without the government's nod was unconstitutional and illegal.
Apparently, Mr Gilani was quoting from remarks made by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry during a meeting on Nov 22 with a delegation of the National Defence University: 'Any action of the armed forces taken without a direction by the federal government would be unconstitutional, illegal, void ab initio and consequently of no legal effect.However, it should be noted that this is not the first time that the prime minister has lashed out at the military establishment. He backtracked on all occasions.
In an address to the National Assembly on Dec 22, he astounded observers by using harsh words against the military. He said no one would be allowed to run a 'state within a state' and also wondered who had given a visa to Osama bin Laden.
But within days, in an attempt to calm down frayed tempers, Prime Minister Gilani clarified his remarks about 'state within a state' He said his statement was aimed at Defence Secretary Khalid Naeem Lodhi, who, in a written statement submitted to the apex court last month, had said the ministry had no operational control over the army and the ISI and only looked after their administrative affairs.
President Asif Zardari, during an interview with a private television on Jan 7, tried to further clarify Mr Gilani's statement about Osama's visa. He said the premier was referring to former president Pervez Musharraf, and not the sitting military leadership.